Traveling as a solo female in a van may be one of the most challenging experiences that you will have but it will also be one of the most exciting times of your life.
One of my main reasons for moving into a van was to expand myself in every way possible, but just the thought of pursuing this lifestyle can be quite daunting at first!
Below I provide helpful information on how to make the beginning of your solo female van life journey feel less overwhelming. Yes, solo traveling will push you out of your comfort zone and to new limits, but you can use this opportunity to thrive, discover who you really are and succeed.
Whether you are planning for your first solo weekend trip or an undetermined length of time, here are 35 tips to get you road-ready!
Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!
Picking The Right Van For You
Before you jump into van life, there are a few things to consider like what kind of van you should get, how big the car should be, and who will do the build. Without a concrete plan, the choices might start to feel overwhelming!
Here are a few helpful tips on how to pick the right van for YOU.
1. Set a Budget
Setting a budget should be the first thing that you do when considering van life. Begin by figuring out what is feasible or if you will need to take out a loan.
Start by going to dealerships, looking at Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, Facebook van groups, and a website called Vanlifetrader.com to get you familiar with the market.
2. Van Selection: Big or Small
Looking for a van can be extremely exhausting since there are so many unique options out there. Start by asking yourself if you want a smaller van or something where you can stand in and potentially add a restroom and a shower if those are your must-haves. The size of the van may also be dependent on your budget or the need for extra space if you plan to travel with a pet.
For quick weekend trips, a smaller van will do the job. But if you’re planning on full-time travel, I highly suggest you find at least a mid-size van (such as a Ford Econoline or larger) that you can stand up in. Being able to stand will make a world of difference in your well-being and make you feel more at home.
3. Building Out The Van Yourself vs Hiring Someone
If you decide to buy an empty van, you can build it out yourself (with the help from friends & family) or hire someone to build it for you. If you decide to build out the van yourself, keep in mind that the unexpected will come up and it will take you longer than previously planned. You will also need to find the space and buy your own tools to do the job yourself.
Hiring someone is the pricier route but this option will give you peace of mind that everything was done professionally and free up your time if you’re currently working.
Prepping For Solo Life On The Road
As you start prepping for life on the road, here are a few tips that will help set you up for success.
4. Pack Comfortable Clothing
When it comes to small spaces, comfort is everything. It is so important to always feel cozy, especially during long-distance drives. My wardrobe mostly consists of casual loungewear and things I can wear during the day and then sleep in at night.
5. Downsize Your Possessions
When the time comes to start packing your van, only bring the minimal basics with you. The van you will be moving into will be much smaller than the space you currently live in and will take some time to get used to. It’s so easy to overpack your van but the more stuff you bring, the harder it will be to find anything at all in your van.
Before moving into my van, I sold a lot of clothes, household items, and art to friends. I stored a few boxes of nostalgic items with my family for long-term safekeeping.
6. Start With Short Trips & Easy Destinations
Unless you are comfortable with driving long distances already you should start off small and ease into solo female van life.
It can be helpful to go to places first that you are familiar with before venturing to new, unknown places or countries. This will also make you more comfortable with finding places to park at night and getting the hang of things.
Planning For the Unexpected
Things will go wrong on the road, it’s just an unavoidable fact. Here are a few things that can help you prepare for emergency situations.
7. Share Your Travel Itinerary With Family & Friends
As a solo female van life traveler, you want to protect yourself from sketchy situations and set yourself up for a safe trip.
It is always good to share where you are planning to travel with friends and family. Consider sharing your location on apps like Find My with your loved ones in case of an emergency.
8. Download Offline Maps
There will be times when you will not have access to the internet or WiFi as you progress on your journey, especially when camping out in National Parks, National Forests, BLM lands (Bureau of Land Management), or in no service zones.
As I plan my upcoming destinations, I typically download an offline area map on Google Maps and on my favorite hiking app Maps.Me.
9. Bring Emergency Items
As you start putting miles on your van, things will start breaking down. Having a basic toolbox is a must to quickly repair things on the road (while YouTube and fellow campers will become your best friends on how to actually do it!)
A few other basic items that you should have with you in your van include:
I also recommend keeping a few survival items like:
- A Fully charged Jackery Explorer 1000
- Emergency thermal blanket
- First aid kit
- Collapsible shovel
- Ice scraper
- Backup food & water
If you plan to travel to beaches or snow, recovery boards are a lifesaver and can be used when a vehicle is stuck by placing them as close to the tires as possible and driving up on them.
10. Keep a Backup Of Important Items
Things can (and will) go wrong on the road. Having extra physical and electronic copies of important items like your driver’s license, passport, and car registration could help you out in the future if those documents get lost or stolen.
Most vehicles come with an extra key, so find either a good hiding spot or keep the spare with a close friend or family member. It is also good to have extra sources of payment in case of emergency so hide some cash and a debit or credit card somewhere secure in case you lose your wallet.
Female Must-Haves For Living In a Van
As a female, you’ll be faced with additional challenges when living in a van full time. Be prepared for anything and always trust your gut.
11. Install a Camera
A camera will make your van feel more secure especially as a solo female traveler. There are many different types of cameras and security systems that can be implemented as part of your van build (even fake cameras you can put up to deter break-ins).
A dashboard camera is a good place to start especially if you get one with motion detection that can automatically start recording a video when movement is detected close to the vehicle.
12. Get Plenty Of Storage Bins
From beauty products and make-up to clothing and personal hygiene items, there is no denying that we just have more stuff to pack.
Storage bins, cubes, and containers can help keep things organized and save space overall. These are nice to have from the very start to keep items tidy, easy to find and secure.
13. Keep a Few Safety Items
Safety is a big concern for those embarking on a solo female van life journey. Safety is important in van life so you should think about it and be prepared for anything, but try not let it consume you.
There are many items that can help keep you stay safe. I would suggest getting a knife or stun gun for self-defense, pepper spray, and a loud alarming device in case of emergency. Make sure all items are always within a quick and easy reach especially when getting ready for bed at night.
Finding Places To Sleep At Night
Finding a free & safe place to sleep is one of the biggest daily challenges when traveling in a van. These are some of my go-to places and tips for finding van life camping spots on the go.
14. Use Apps And Websites
I recommend using iOverlander, park4night, Thedyrt.com, and Freecampsites.net to find places to sleep at night. These apps and sites show marked locations and ratings of where other van lifers have already stayed along with other helpful tips on where to do laundry, fill up on water, take a shower, and show locations of dump stations.
15. Take Advantage Of Free Public Land Parking
Camping is a great option for solo female van life travelers. I personally like to stay in BLM (Bureau of Land Management) public lands and National Forests that allow free camping up to 14 days.
Private, State Park, and National Park campsites are also an option that can be found all over the US, but paid campsites often need to be reserved ahead of time which can be hard to plan out timing-wise when you’re always on the go.
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16. Park At Friends And Family’s Houses
Staying in cities, residential neighborhoods and downtowns can be difficult due to the constant foot traffic. Staying near a friend’s or family member’s house is a great temporary option if they are okay with it. The bonus is that you can hang out with them in the morning and even have a place to go to the bathroom and shower!
17. Don’t Drive At Night
Driving at night, especially in new areas and abroad, can make finding a spot to sleep more difficult because it is harder to tell if an area seems safe. Securing your sleeping location in the day can be very relieving, especially after a long day of hiking and sightseeing.
18. Have a Plan B
Lastly, trust your gut! If you do not feel safe, simply move your vehicle to somewhere that feels more comfortable. It is better to spend a little extra time relocating to a new spot than worrying all night.
Tips For Keeping Up With Personal Hygiene In a Van
One of the most frequently asked questions any van lifer gets is “How do you take a shower and stay clean in a van?”. Here are a few tips for keeping up with personal cleanliness when living and traveling in a van full time.
19. Set Up a Bathroom
Using public restrooms like gas stations and groceries stores is always an option, but in a pinch or in the middle of the night, it is super nice to have somewhere to go inside your van.
There are many options to go with from a bucket to a bottle or an actual portable toilet, depending on the space that you can set aside for a bathroom.
20. Get a Gym Membership For Showering
Having a solar shower is a common option for showering outdoors when living in a van. But if you don’t feel comfortable showering outdoors as a solo female traveler, getting a gym membership is a great alternative.
The plus of having a gym membership for showering is that you can also get a workout in before. Planet Fitness is one of the most affordable options at around $25 per month and they seem to have the most locations out of all the typical chain gyms.
21. Keep a Set Of Body Wipes
Body wipes come in handy when a solar shower or gym is not an option like in cities. I always keep a set of wet wipes in the van for emergencies.
22. Get a Female Pee Funnel
Having a female pee funnel can be a lifesaver when traveling in a van. It basically lets you pee standing up (like a guy) so you can go to the restroom outdoors more discreetly or have better aim if you’re using a pee bottle.
23. Keep Your Van Clean And Organized
Being in a small space can be tough but it can be even harder when it is messy and disorganized. Living in a clean space can help your mental well-being and keep you in a positive mood.
Cleaning is essential and you would be surprised with how much you will need to do it on the road. I do it several times a day, especially after breakfast and dinner, and I still feel like it gets messy so quickly. Try to have a designated location for each item so it is easier to keep everything organized.
Entertainment For Solo Van Life Travelers
When solo traveling in a van, it’s likely that you will have more downtime than before. Here are a few tips on how to keep yourself entertained while living and traveling in a van.
24. Get a Kindle
Reading is a great way to pass the time and learn new things especially when you’re off the grid in places with no internet reception. Because of space constraints, a Kindle or other reading device works the best in a van.
You can connect your Kindle to library apps such as Overdrive and Libby to access your local library and download books for free. While driving, I also love listening to audiobooks that you can get through these apps.
25. Download Offline Podcasts & Shows
Podcasts are a great way to stay entertained as a van life traveler. Keep in mind that if you plan to travel to no service zones, be sure to download your favorite podcasts and shows beforehand.
26. Find Part Time Online Work
Having a part-time online job is a great way to keep some income going and stay busy on the road. If you have an office job already, you can start off by asking your manager if you can do it remotely.
There are also freelance sites that you can sign up for such as Fiverr and Upwork to find remote work on your own schedule. The biggest benefit of doing online work is that you are not tied to a specific region or place.
27. Try New Hobbies
Taking a leap to change your life and become a self-sufficient, bad-ass solo female traveler will be an exciting part of your life that one day you will fondly and proudly look back on.
During this time be sure to take up new activities that you’ve never tried before to step out of your comfort zone and grow as a person.
Meeting Other People On The Road
Traveling as a solo female in a van can feel a little isolating and lonely at times but only if you let it be. There are a lot of great opportunities to create a community on the road.
28. Facebook Travel Groups
There are many Facebook groups that foster online communities and create a space to meet other van life travelers.
A few of the most popular van life Facebook groups are:
- Earning a Remote Income I Van Life
- PanAmerican Travelers Association
- VanDwellers Facebook: Live in your van
- Women’s Vanlife Collective
- VanLife & Nomad Singles
29. Van Life Meetups
Hanging out with new people can add fun energy and brighten the mood. Meetups are a wonderful way to make fellow van life friends on the road, camp out for a few days, and just have a great time.
Check out this handy list by Vacayvans that lists van life events taking place all over the US throughout the year. A few of the most popular events include Skooliepalooza which is a school bus-focused meetup and Descend on Bend – a van meetup that happens in Oregon over a weekend in the fall.
30. Sign Up For Guided Tours
Signing up for a tour is a great way to get to know the area as well as make new friends. Many popular destinations offer walking, food, brewery, or sightseeing tours that are great for meeting other solo travelers on the road.
31. Continue Doing Hobbies That You Love In New Places
If you have a hobby like running, hiking, dancing, yoga, etc. you can still do them in new places. Most likely there is a running group, a rock-climbing gym, or a yoga studio that sells single day passes in the new city or town that you are traveling to. Join the group or take the class if you are staying long enough and put yourself out there to make new connections!
Dealing With Challenges As a Solo Female Traveler
Life on the road will throw all sorts of challenges your way. Here are a few tips to help you deal with those struggles.
32. Stay Connected
Solo traveling can be extremely isolating at times. While living on the road, you are bound to have moments (or even extended time periods) where you feel alone.
When that happens, I like to make a list of things that I enjoy doing or friends and family that I have not talked to in a while. In these moments checking off an activity from that list or making a phone call can make a world of difference.
33. Take A Break If You Need It
There is an expectation that if you decide to take a night or two off van life that you are not a real van lifer. I am here to tell you that taking a break in van life is TOTALLY OKAY!
That unspoken rule is not real, and your mental health is more important. Set aside a fund where you have money to spend on a few nights at a hotel or an Airbnb to reset before getting back to your travels.
34. Ask For Help From Friends & Family
Your friends and family care about your wellbeing and if things come up where assistance could be helpful do not be afraid to reach out to them.
I usually ask a friend or family member if I can do simple tasks such as filling my water tank, washing dishes in their sink, or doing my laundry at their place. They are almost always happy to help in that way and even if they do not understand your lifestyle, they can at least provide some comfort.
35. Ask Questions To Fellow Van Lifers
Over the recent years, van life is just becoming more and more popular. The odds are that someone you know has a van or at least has a friend of a friend that you can reach out to if you are still not sure if this lifestyle is for you and have more questions.
As an alternative, there are also lots of great solo female van life accounts on Instagram and TikTok to check out for more inspiration and tips! Some of my favorite solo female van life handles on Instagram are:
When it comes to solo female van life, my biggest piece of advice is to treat this as a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the best time of your life. This will be your opportunity to create your amazing new reality so try to shift your perspective on everything by keeping yourself open to trying new things, exploring the unknown, learning how to take care of yourself in tough situations, and loving yourself in a whole new way.
Through this journey, you will become a changed person for the better. Just know that not everyone is going to get this lifestyle and that’s totally okay. You will find your tribe and grow your community into something truly amazing.
You got this!
This post is contributed by Shelby Dominski. Shelby is a freelance travel writer who loves the outdoors. She currently lives out of her van with her cat JP, and is primarily based on the west coast. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @herdestinyunbound or her blog Herdestinyunbound.com where she shares advice on van life, traveling, nature, music, movement, food, art, and authentic connection.
Looking for more van life inspiration? Here are a few other helpful resources and blog posts that you may like:
- 30 Must-Have Campervan Accessories For Van Life
- 15 Best Campervan Conversions For Van Life Inspiration
- 10 Best Promaster Van Conversions To Inspire You
- 10 Tips & Tricks To Get Ready For Van Life With A Cat
- 10 Best Minivan Camper Conversions For Hitting The Road